By Myra Chanin


Richard Holbrook reminds me of Dennis Day, the Irish Tenor on the old Jack Benny Radio Show of the 1940’s. That should give you a clue as to how old I am. Dennis Day had the smile and the voice of an angel, a desire and an ability to please and no major or minor vices. Richard Holbrook sings just as well, projects the same sweetness, innocence, goodwill, honesty and integrity, is a hellovalot smarter and is a much more informative entertainer. Richard’s also the most generous performer – next to maybe Bruce Springstein — I’ve ever watched.

He’s totally prepared, never flubs a word or a note, is prepared to sing the night away and looks so comfortable on stage that everyone in the audience is totally relaxed and enjoys.

At his St. Patrick’s Day show at 54Below, Richard warbled his way through 33 terrific songs from the Burton Lane Songbook, including a Top Ten Tune of Erin, How Are Things in Glocca Morra from Lane’s St. Patty’s Day-appropriate Broadway hit, Finian’s Rainbow – a liltingly glorious achievement, especially for someone named Morris Hyman Kushner at his bris.

Holbrook’s 33-song tune fest was an elegantly presented musical biography with the tuxedoed Richard, a maroon satin handkerchief peering out of his breast pocket, smilng and swinging every tune, hitting every note, enunciating every syllable and reporting interesting facts about Lane’s 85-year life. To paraphrase Sondheim’s Red Riding Hood, I learned lots of things I hadn’t known before, i.e., like Lane’s having signed his first music publishing contract at age 15, and two years later, after performing for George and Ira Gershwin not only being offered encouragement by them but being introduced to lyricist E. Y. (Yip) Harburg with whom Lane would eventually collaborate on Finian’s Rainbow.

In 1933, Lane relocated to Hollywood where he wrote songs for films including Everything I Have Is Yours for MGM’s Dancing Lady staring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford. But he was more than a songwriter. He was also a discoverer or talent. In 1934 he brought the 11-year-old Frances Gumm to MGM, accompanied her on the piano during her audition for Louis Mayer, which won her an immediate MGM contract. They reconnected seven years later when Lane wrote How About You? for the film Babes on Broadway in which Frances, now Judy Garland, starred with Mickey Rooney. Garland always credited Lane for starting her career. In Hollywood, Lane also composed the music for Alan Jay Lerner lyrics for Royal Wedding, which starred Jane Powell and Fred Astaire. And Lane and Lerner later also collaborated on the Broadway musical, On a Clear Day. Lane’s music deserved a better book.

Lane worked with many great American lyricists — Howard Dietz, Ira Gershwin, Harold Adamson, Ralph Freed and Frank Loesser. both in New York and Hollywood. His most famous songs include Old Devil Moon, Look to the Rainbow, Everything I Have is Yours, I Hear Music, The Lady’s in Love with You, and How Could you Believe Me when I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar Al My Life, Come Back to Me, and That Great Come and Get it Day. Holbrook sang them all.

Holbrook’s band, the supportive Tom Nelson Trio has a High Society brio. Their arrangements emphasized the jazzy, get up and dance rhythms of all of Lane’s tunes. Even the ballads were played and sung with such vim and vitality they had me swinging and swaying in my chair.

It was a wonderful show, totally appreciate by its audience, which included members of the Noel Coward Society and Burton Lane’s widow Lynn.